Posted on February 14, 2024 at 8:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek

Today we're interviewing Marcia Clayton, who writes historical fiction with a sprinkling of romance and mystery in a heart-warming family saga called The Hartford Manor Series that stretches from the Regency period through to Victorian times.

A farmer’s daughter, Clayton was born in North Devon, a rural and picturesque area in the far southwest of England. 

Now a grandmother, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends and is a keen researcher of her family history, a hobby that inspired some of the characters in her books. 

SADYE: How did you come to see yourself as a writer, and what inspired you to seek publication?

MARCIA: The fact that I have written five books still surprises me, as I had no long-held ambition to become an author.

I was the youngest of four children, but there was a wide age gap between me and the others, and so I was brought up almost as an only child. As I lived in the countryside with few children nearby to play with, I had to amuse myself for much of the time and always loved to paint, write stories and read. ...

I’ve always loved historical fiction books and, in my younger days, was a big fan of Catherine Cookson, Philippa Carr, and Georgette Heyer. With my rural upbringing and farming background, I thought I would like to write similar books set in rural North Devon, an area I know and love.

My first book, The Mazzard Tree, took me several years to write as I could only find the time to work on it sporadically. As a mother of three young sons working full time, I had little time or energy for writing.

However, the book was eventually completed, and by this time, my eldest son, Stuart, was established as a musician and author and married to Laura, a graphic designer. Between them, they persuaded me to upload the file to Amazon, and my book was published in 2014.

SADYE: Which of your characters would you most and least like to trade places with? 

MARCIA: Betsey Lovering. She was a real person living in the 1850s, and though not a direct ancestor, she is linked to my family, and I found her story intriguing. The character called Betsey in my books is based on this admirable lady.

The real Betsey raised a large family in harsh times and worked hard to run a country inn with her husband. When her daughter-in-law developed a mental illness and was admitted to an asylum, Betsey stepped in and raised her many grandchildren as well as her own family. It was sad to note that after her death, one of her grandsons died in the workhouse — something I’m sure wouldn’t have happened if his granny had still been alive.

In some ways, I envy Betsey for her simple life and the pleasure of living peacefully in the beautiful, unspoilt countryside. However, I know her life must have been hard, with many challenges to overcome, so I’m sure her existence was not as idyllic as I might like to think.

SADYE: What have been the most surprising, rewarding, and challenging parts of your writing career?

MARCIA: Although I have been writing for a few years, I’m still surprised at how much my readers love my books. A friendly comment on social media is so rewarding, as is a glowing review — something all authors welcome.

The most challenging aspect of my writing career has been tackling all the elements of self-publishing and trying to market my books. I’ve never attempted to find a traditional publisher, preferring to self-publish, but despite the initial help from my son and daughter-in-law, I’ve had a lot to learn, and much of it has not been easy.

Another rewarding part of my writing career is the support given to me by my fellow authors. This has been truly amazing, and I’m so grateful.

SADYE: Which historical figure would you most like to meet, and why?

MARCIA: I would love to meet my great-grandfather Henry Willis.

Henry was born in 1842 in the small Devon village of Berrynarbor. He came from a large family, and his father was a farm labourer. At the age of 16, Henry ran away to sea on a fishing smack from Ilfracombe Harbour.

In 1864, he enlisted as a seaman in the US Navy in New Jersey and fought in the American Civil War. He was severely injured, losing an arm in battle, and was discharged in 1865 with a generous pension. From then on, Henry led a double life.

When he, his wife, Prudence, and their family of ten children lived in Devon, they were known as Willis. However, the family also lived in Cardiff, Wales, going by the name of Adams for many years. No one knows why. ... 

From what I have read of him, he was quite a character. He was once charged with an assault on a gentleman over a dispute concerning fishing rights. Henry allegedly shook a stick at his landlord and threatened to put him in a straitjacket and lock him up in the “beast-house.” 

An amusing account in the local newspaper describes him as a “bluff, powerful-looking man, with all the appearance of the old campaigner, who spoke with a decided American twang.” He clearly enjoyed entertaining the jury, and fortunately, the case was dismissed.

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall! I think Henry would have an interesting tale to tell.

SADYE: What advice, as relates to your writing career, would you give your younger self?

MARCIA: Well, one piece of advice I would give to my younger self would be to pay better attention to my English lessons and learn all there is to know about grammar.

Although I did well in my exams and achieved a Grade A in A-level English, there are some grammar rules that I still do not fully understand. Fortunately, I usually seem to know the correct way to phrase something by instinct, and if I get something wrong, I rely on it being picked up during editing. 

There are also aspects of self-publishing that I wish I had investigated further before I first published my books. For example, my son published my first paperback using his ISBN numbers.

However, as I wrote more books, I wanted to be the publisher and I didn’t realise that I needed my own imprint and that a set of ISBN numbers can’t be shared between two authors. 

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Learn more about Marcia Clayton on her website, where her books can also be purchased; like her page on Facebook; and follow her on Twitter and Instagram

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Categories: Author Interview

I really enjoyed the interview and like learning more of Marcia's past. Love her books.
Celia Martin | 4/2/24 at 2:29 PM
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